BSF 02: Memorandum submitted by TANDBERG

 

Summary

The Building Schools for the Future Programme provides an unparalleled opportunity to improve the UK's schools to ensure that they can deliver the best education possible for future generations. In our opinion, for a school to be truly sustainable we cannot only focus on the bricks and mortar. We must ensure that the ICT infrastructure that is put in place is fit for the future.

In our opinion the Building Schools for the Future Programme has not, to date, encouraged contractors to fully bear this in mind when procuring ICT. The capacity for new technologies to both complement and build on existing teaching methods is yet to be fully realised.

The lack of guidance for contractors involved in the Building Schools for the Future Programme has meant that many of the new schools will not be able to take advantage of new technologies such as video conferencing.

In addition, the challenges associated with the 14-19 Agenda and transporting students between different educational providers have not been fully explored. The potential for delivering a greater proportion of lessons via video conferencing should be considered at the earliest opportunity.

 

 
 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

1. TANDBERG welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Children, Schools and Families Committee follow up inquiry into sustainable schools and the Building Schools for the Future programme.

 

2. TANDBERG is a leading global provider of visual communication products and services. The Company has dual headquarters in New York and Norway. TANDBERG designs, develops and markets systems and software for video, voice and data. The Company provides sales, support and value-added services in more than 90 countries worldwide.

 

3. In the UK, we work with a range of public sector organisations including the emergency services, schools, local authorities, universities, Primary Care Trusts and central government departments. We also provide services for some of the leading private-sector companies in the country.

 

4. The Building Schools for the Future Programme provides an unparalleled opportunity to improve the UK's schools to ensure that they can deliver the best education possible for future generations. For a school to be truly sustainable we cannot only focus on the bricks and mortar. We must ensure that the ICT infrastructure that is put in place is fit for the future.

 

5. In our opinion the Building Schools for the Future Programme has not, to date, encouraged contractors to fully bear this in mind when procuring ICT. The capacity for new technologies to both complement and build on existing teaching methods is yet to be fully realised.

 

6. The inquiry is wide-ranging and deals with a number of areas which it would not be relevant for us to comment on. However, we would particularly like to share our expertise on two areas - ICT procurement and how video conferencing could help to resolve the challenge that transport presents to the delivery of the 14-19 Agenda.

 

Developments in the procurement and design of ICT for schools

 

7. In the draft ICT output specification[1] that was consulted on in April 2004, detailed information was provided for contractors on the procurement of video conferencing in schools. The specification highlighted that video conferencing technology "supports the creation of connected learning communities" and "can be used not only for external use, but also remote viewing of internal events or lectures."

 

8. The draft output specification stated that the service provided "must be able to support the operation of up to three video conferencing sessions at any one time, one of which would involve a class of pupils." It also added that the service "should include a facility for pupils to watch lessons remotely (eg from hospital)."

 

9. However, when the final output specification[2] was published, this information was significantly watered down, with the document simply stating that "audio and video conferencing shall be supported." No further information was provided to help contractors decide what type of technology might be suitable and how video conferencing technology could improve the educational environment.

 

10. This has led to many contractors installing proprietary web based video solutions rather than standards based video conferencing equipment.

 

11. Put simply, standards based video conferencing solutions comply with the umbrella standard[3] which is issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU issues guidance on how communications devices should work, developing standards upon which manufacturers can build new technologies with confidence in their ability to communicate with any other devices designed to meet the standard. Conversely a proprietary system is one which does not adhere to these standards preventing it from connecting to or working with any device outside of its own solution.

 

12. The problem with schools installing proprietary based systems is that is does not allow them to utilise the JANET video conferencing service - the broadband network that connects 18 million end users in UK schools, universities, FE Colleges, Research Councils, Specialist Colleges and Adult and Community Learning providers. JANET also links third parties from around the world to schools in the UK free of charge, provided they possess a standards based video conferencing solution.

 

13. The quality of video streaming from proprietary solutions is also generally much poorer than standards based options, and could not, for example, be used to project an image of a teacher to enable them to teach a whole class.

 

14. Standards based video conferencing technology, however, can be used to teach a whole class, or link classes in different locations together. For example, we have been closely involved in the provision of video conferencing to Ernesford Grange Primary School in Coventry. Our equipment has enabled the local education authority to overcome a lack of language provision at some schools by delivering lessons remotely with the physical assistance of a classroom assistant.

 

15. Standards based video conferencing units can also link schools to other educational providers via the JANET video conferencing service, including museums such as the National Space Centre in Leicester, the Natural History Museum in London, the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield, and many other institutions that provide interactive, real-time lessons over video. Many of the proprietary video solutions currently being offered prevents the use of the service and the ability to collaborate with other schools at home or abroad.

 

16. Unfortunately, due to the lack of guidance on what systems to buy, contractors are often installing proprietary web based video conferencing solutions as they are cheaper to buy than the units supplied by the leading suppliers (all of who comply with ITU guidance). However, by installing equipment that does not have the same level of functionality, ultimately it is the students that lose out as they cannot use the technology to its full advantage.

 

17. Video conferencing also promotes innovative curriculum design. Video conferencing can be fully integrated with interactive whiteboard technology and used to record the 'lesson experience' for recall later helping populate school Learning Platforms for use in revision and extending learning outside school hours.

 

18. However, due to the fact that many schools built under the Building Schools for the Future programme are only installing proprietary solutions because of the limited guidance available, it has meant that the vast majority of schools built under the programme will not be able to benefit from these innovative ways of teaching.

 

19. This is despite the six figure investment that has been invested into the JANET network, which will allow schools and colleges across the country to be able to make use of high quality video conferencing technology.

 

20. Further, more detailed, guidance should be made available to contractors relating to the educational benefits of standards based video conferencing, to ensure that more students are able to benefit from the use of the technology.

 

Delivering the 14-19 Agenda

 

21. In September 2008, the first tranche of Diplomas will start to roll out. One of the main challenges to the successful delivery of the 14-19 Agenda will be transporting students between different educational providers.

 

22. While the provision of affordable transport to move students from site to site might be cost effective in urban areas, it is less likely to be so in rural areas where public transport is less extensive and less frequent. The greater the distance between consortia institutions, the greater the cost and the more time spent travelling during the school day which cannot be spent learning. This has serious implications for the delivery of Diplomas.

 

23. On 30 June 2008, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) announced an injection of 23 million to help rural areas tackle the travel problems associated with the delivery of Diplomas. The package includes funding new Transport Coordinators in 40 of the most rural areas, who will provide advice and guidance on how to tackle the issue. This has included ideas such as funding students to travel by moped between the different establishments.

 

24. We believe that video conferencing provides a far more efficient, cost effective and green alternative to the large scale movement of students from site to site than using mopeds or minibuses. Now that all schools have broadband, video conferencing provides a logical and realistic solution to the challenge that transport presents to the delivery of the 14-19 Agenda.

 

25. By installing video conferencing in new schools as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, this will allow schools to deliver part of the Diploma courses by video conferencing. This will allow students greater access to a variety of specialist teachers, whilst minimising time and money wasted travelling.

 

26. Video conferencing has been transformed over recent years. Modern systems provide the highest real time video and sound quality in face-to-face communication over existing broadband infrastructure.

 

27. An additional benefit of including video conferencing in new schools is that many employers keen to engage with the 14-19 Agenda already have this technology in place. This will help to promote joint working and ensure more effective monitoring of students' progress in the workplace. There is also considerable potential to exploit such facilities to deliver careers advice.

 

28. In our opinion, the challenges associated with transporting students between different educational providers have not been fully explored, and the potential for delivering a greater proportion of lessons via video conferencing should be considered at the earliest opportunity.

 

July 2008



[1] http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/_doc/6372/LEP%20ICT%20spec%20v3.doc

[2] http://www.p4s.org.uk/documents/BSF_Standard_Documents/ICTOutputSpecificationTemplateAugust2006.doc

[3] Specifically the H.323 standard as issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which ensures compatibility between video conferencing systems from around the world.